Saugerties boys’ basketball program highlights academics

Sawyer basketball coach Mike Tiano needs his seniors to step up and lead this year’s team. (photo by Robert Ford)

Saugerties High School boys’ basketball coach Mike Tiano thinks it’s important that his players have game on the court. It’s even more important for him that they have game in the classroom.

To make sure his players are on the right academic path, Tiano and a number of his fellow teachers have set up an special study hall this year for the players prior to each day’s practice.


If the players don’t have the grades, Tiano points out, then they’re not going to be on the court. They’re not going to be able to go college. When it comes time for a job after graduation, they’ll be stuck in low-paying work.

Keep their grades up, and they’ll get to play some ball, get into college, and maybe continue to play their sport at the next level, he says. They’ll be more likely to have the opportunity to get a good-paying job after graduation.

“If they want to play, they have to keep their grades up,” says Tiano. If they need it, players receive help with their homework, and studying for tests.

“It’s an important part of their life, and not all of them will be playing ball in college. But they’ll always need the academics,” Tiano said.

So far, this program has been just for the boys, but there is an interest in bringing it to the girls’ program as well.

While the players are getting help with their schoolwork, Tiano is making sure they are “learning” on the court as well. During a recent practice, he drilled his players over and over on plays that he believes will bring them the most likely  success on the court.

They will need those plays as they go against quality schools such as Warwick, one of the best teams in the state. With the step up in the level of competition, the Sawyer coach will be looking to his senior-heavy line up.

“This is going to be our year,” Tiano says. “We have a number of seniors to lead us, and Dior Johnson, our eighth grader, has stepped up his game.” Johnson, who took the league by storm as a seventh grader, has gotten even better, Tiano says. He’s so good that Division 1 college University of Buffalo has sent him an offer sheet to come play ball for them when he graduates, and that’s still five years away.

The Sawyers will have a bit of a new look this year. Tiano has something he hasn’t had for a while. Height.

Though this year’s team is taller than the teams of the last few years, the coach says he still plans on having a running game. With a shorter team, Tiano’s team played a full-court, fast-break offense. Tiano wants this year’s team to do the same, “although we will be posting up in the paint more often to allow us to work the pick-and-roll.”

Running the offense will be senior Austin Curlin. On the back line will be guards Johnson and Tavin Rell. Up front will be Liam Schoonmaker, up from the last year’s JV squad, and Caleb Edwards.

With 14 players making varsity, Tiano will be better able to mix and match offenses and defenses. On defense, the Sawyers will continue to play man-to-man, though Tiano will throw in some trap plays and the occasional zone.

The Sawyers begin their season against Kingston on December 1.